by Max Brantley
For your reading pleasure: A deep piece in the Washington Post about scholar Danielle Allen's investigation into the origins of the Barack Obama-is-a-Muslim-terrorist-etc. e-mail smear campaign. She finds some key instigators in the course of a broader examination of political skulduggery in the age of the Internet.
The idea of unsubstantiated charges whispered through gossip trails has been a tried-and-true political technique since well before Machiavelli's time, Allen said. Traditionally, the best approach to combating them has been to "flush the charges out into the open."
"What I've come to realize is, the labor of generating an e-mail smear is divided and distributed amongst parties whose identities are secret even to each other," she says. A first group of people published articles that created the basis for the attack. A second group recirculated the claims from those articles without ever having been asked to do so. "No one coordinates the roles," Allen said. Instead the participants swim toward their goal like a school of fish -- moving on their own, but also in unison.
Obama's campaign, for better or worse, is writing the manual on combating this new asymmetrical guerrilla warfare. Obama has not shied away from the rumors -- he mentions them frequently. ...
Allen says the casual pushback and aggressive response plan could provide the model politicians will follow in the future. But she remains uncertain it will work.
We shall soon see.